1993 Kawasaki Concours 1000

This was my second motorcycle. Photos below are from when the bike was almost new, taken in 1993 somewhere along US 1, the Pacific Coast Highway, in California (left) and a few years later, probably 1999, along California Highway 33 north of Ojai (right). Notice the added rubber edge moulding around the windscreen in the photo on the left. That was my first attempt to reduce turbulence from the stock Concours windscreen, which was legendary. Someone was advertising this edge trim for that purpose. It didn't work. The Givi topcase seen in the photo on the right was added later to increase luggage space for longer trips.

A few months after I learned to ride in The City using the Suzuki Intruder 750 in 1992, I decided to try riding across the Bay Bridge from San Francisco to work in Emeryville a few times. There were some pretty gusty winds out there, and the Intruder tended to get whipped around and appeared to be twisted back and forth in those winds. I decided a larger, heavier bike would probably be a lot more comfortable if I was going to ride to work regularly. Initially, I went to the BMW dealer in San Francisco to see what they had. They let me demo ride a K75 for a couple of hours. I was BMW's smaller, 750cc three-cylinder sport touring bike. I rode it across the Bay Bridge and back to test it in the wind, but was not impressed. It blew around quite a bit also. If I was going to get a BMW, the larger 1000cc four-cylinder K100 might be better. There was an older salesman at the dealership who had been riding BMWs all his life. He was a convincing advocate for BMW. But the German bikes seemed very expensive. The K100 would have been about $13,000. I wasn't sure I wanted to spend that much on a motorcycle.

Then one day I saw an article about the Kawasaki Concours in a motorcycle magazine. It said Kawasaki had been building these bikes in Lincoln, Nebraska, since 1987, basically the same model, and it was a good solid sport touring bike at a bargain price. I went to the Kawasaki dealer in San Francisco, which at that time was right next door to the BMW motorcycle dealer, and asked if they had one I could see. They did not, but said they expected to get one in the next week. My girlfriend and I went back that next week. They had the bike on the salesroom floor, but they said they already had a customer who wanted to purchase it but was trying to line up financing. I must have looked a bit disappointed. The salesman said, "If you were to buy the bike, how would you pay for it?" I said, "Cash. I'd write you a check today." The salesman said, "You can have the bike today for cash." For insurance purposes, I had to complete the purchase papers before he let us take it out for a test ride. We rode two-up around a few blocks in the city. I liked it, and affirmed the purchase.

When I began riding this bike around California, there were a couple things that bothered me. One was the original saddle. It was not as comfortable as I had hoped. Two or three hours of riding might be OK, but after an all-day ride of 8-10 hours, I could barely stand. The saddle was too stiff and didn't have enough width or padding for support in long rides. I made an appointment with Corbin, at that time located in Castroville, CA, to have them build a custom seat. I told them what I wanted was a pillow-pad saddle with a lot of padding like the ones on big touring Harleys. The rep who had been assigned to me said, "That's not the right seat for this bike." I said, "I don't care. That's what I want." He assigned me to a saddle builder who molded the foam as I had requested, then had me ride the bike around to make sure I was satisfied before stitching the cover. The final result, at a cost of about $350, was amazing. I could ride the bike all day, ten or twelve hours, get off and walk and feel no pain or stiffness.

Another problem, for which I learned the Concours was notorious, was turbulence generated by the windscreen at highway speeds. I added an edge molding that was advertised to reduce turbulence, but it had little effect. Then I saw an aftermarket windscreen advertised by Rifle for this bike with a mid-screen air vent. I ordered one and installed it on the bike. Problem solved! The Concours became one of the smoothest bikes I've ever ridden on a highway, at least from the standpoint of air turbulence.

Reviews also criticized the Concours for excessive vibration transmitted through the handlebars. I didn't find this to be much of a problem with mine.

When I had been riding the Concours for about two years, on one trip back up US 101 from Southern California, the bike began to run very rough at low speeds, with a strong odor of unburned gasoline. I noticed this when I got off the highway a rode slowly through a town en route to a gas station to fill the tank. Once back on the highway, however, it smoothed out and ran OK until the next time I slowed down. When I got back to San Francisco, I took it to the Kawasaki dealer for service. The problem was that the floats in the four Mikuni carburators were sticking. The dealer mechanic flushed the float chambers and replaced the floats at a cost of a couple hundred dollars. He told me with that bike it would probably be necessary to flush the float chambers periodically to remove any debris or water that had accumulated. After that the bike ran well for a while, then the problem started again. I flushed the float chambers myself. It required attaching a drain tube and opening the drain valve on each float chamber in turn, then letting gasoline run by gravity through the tube until it appeared clear. There was a fair amount of debris that came out, after which the bike again ran OK. I thought the problem must be water or particulates in the gasoline, so I bought a small inline filter with a plastic shell that allowed me to see any trapped particulate matter and inserted it in the gas line between the tank and the carburetors, just below the edge of the tank where I could easily inspect it. I had a similar problem with a 1967 VW Beetle that I owned while attending graduate school in the early 1970s. In that case, I had to remove the carburetor and rebuild it every few weeks until I figured out that putting one of these little filters in the gas line would solve the problem. It was either particulates in the gasoline, or more likely rust from the fuel tank. The filter on the Consours seemed to be picking up quite a bit of rusty particulate matter, but changing it periodically kept the dirt out of the float chambers and therefore kept the bike running properly, just as it had for my VW. It sort of amazed me that a fuel filter was not part of the standard equipment on this bike if the floats were so sensitive to clogging and sticking. On the other hand, my Harley-Davidson had no fuel filter and never had this problem. People told me the fuel passages on the single Harley-Davidson carburetor were much larger, thus not prone to clogging like those in the Mikunis.

About a year later, however, I noticed gasoline dripping from the Concours in my garage. At first I assumed it must be a leaky hose or fitting. But careful investigation showed that the gas was leaking from a pinhole in the bottom of the gas tank. Further investigation revealed a thin line of corrosion along both sides of the tank, bubbles in the paint visible on the outside surfaces, and similar corrosion underneath. The fuel tank on the Concours had been designed with a lip descending below the oulet of the tank on each side of the bike. Inside this area was a portion of the tank that acted as a dead space where water in the fuel could collect over time. The linesof corrosion visible on the outside and underside of the tank corresponded to the level of the outlet of the tank, which would have been the surface of any stagnant water that had collected. I took the bike to the Kawasaki dealer, and they agreed that the tank needed replacement. They told me that some of the gas tanks for the Concours models had been constructed from steel that was not sufficiently corrosion resistant. In my opinion, the design of the tank, with the dead spaces in the outside edges that were below the outlet and could not drain, was also a mistake. It had resulted, apparently, from a desire to make the tank contribute to the aesthetics of the motorcycle rather than functional practicality. Unfortunately, I had owned the bike for 37 months when I discovered this problem, therefore was informed by my dealer that the three-year warrantee would not cover the replacement of the tank at a cost of over $700. I wrote a letter describing the problem to Kawasaki's US headquarters in Santa Ana, California, and they graciously agreed to replace the gas tank at no charge. The rust formation in the gas tank had also likely been responsible for the particulates contaminating the carburetor float chambers. Once the tank was replaced with a new one, which I was told had been manufactured from more corrosion-resistant steel, I saw no further accumulation of rust in the fuel filter and experienced no further problems for as long as I owned the bike.

Another learning experience had to do with tires. Influenced by an advertisement, at one point I decided to replace the bias-ply tires recommended by Kawasaki for this bike with a set of Michelin high-performance radial motorcycle tires. I immediately noticed a difference in the handling of the bike. The radial tires had more flexible sidewalls, therefore tended to give the bike a softer feel in turns and a definite feeling of side-to-side motion as the tires flexed. The real problem with this occurred one night when I was riding to Southern California and traveling at high speed on California Route 58 over the Tehachapi Pass. There were gusty winds in the pass, and as my speed approached 120 miles per hour, the bike started to oscillate from side to side with increasing amplitude. It was a scary phenomenon. I backed off the throttle and reduced my speed. Luckily the oscillations subsided and I was able to keep the bike under control. This phenomenon was surprising, because with the recommended bias-ply tires I had ridden this bike on one trip to Southern California in Interstate 5 for several miles in gusty conditions at speed in excess of 130 MPH, and it had been solid as a rock with no indication of any handling irregularities. I replaced the Michelin radials with the recommended bias-ply tires at the next tire change, and the handling problems disappeared. A few years later, during a trip south on the California coast, I had a flat tire on my BMW K1200LT that could not be repaired. It was a Sunday, and the only tire I could obtain as replacement was a radial tire purchased from and mounted by the Kawasaki dealer in Santa Maria, California. With that tire on the heavy K1200LT touring bike, the handling developed the same issues as I had noticed with the Concours, a disturbing fealing of swishing from side to side. Although it was expensive, I replaced the radial with the BMW-recommended bias-ply tire at my first opportunity. My conclusion was that radial tires may be fine for light-weight sport bikes, but they should never be used on super-heavyweight touring motorcycles.

I added a Givi tailpack luggage compartment for more storage. Also, to have more lights on the front of the bike for visibility, I designed some mounting hardware and had a friend who had a machine shop build it from black annodized aluminum. Then I used it to mount two halogen driving lights on the fairing, sufficiently outboard not to interfere with fork rotation for steering or when parked.

Although I had dropped the Intruder a couple of times while learning to ride, practicing turns, after that I had no problem with that lightweight bike. The 650 lb Concours was another matter. Unlike the Intruder, it came equipped with a center stand. Having no experience with that, the first time I tried to hoist it onto the center stand was only a week or so after purchasing it. I was parking it on a sidewalk outside the Safeway market in a little shopping center in North Beach. One of the great things about San Francisco at that time was that you could get away with parking motorcycles on the sidewalks. The cops generally wouldn't ticket unless it was obstructing pedestrians. That all changed after Willie Brown became mayor. Anyway, I was trying to hoist the Concours onto the center stand, lost my balance, and the bike went over. A passing pedestrian helped me pick it up. After he left, I attempted to hoist it again, but this time I failed to notice that the bike had leaked gasoline from the carburetor floats onto the sidewalk. My feet slipped on the gasoline, and down it went again in the same spot. A little old lady sitting on a bench nearby was looking at me, like she was thinking, "What a doofus!" Very embarrassing. Again a passerby helped me pick it up. I gave up the idea of putting it on the center stand and just set it on the side stand. I was lucky there were no smokers in the vicinity, with all that gasoline on the sidewalk. One big advantage of more modern, fuel-injected bikes is that they generally do not leak fuel when dropped. Also, electronic ignitions are now often equipped with attitude sensors and programmed to shut down the engine if the bike falls on its side.

The next time I dropped the Concours was equally embarrassing. It was after another week or two, and I had ridden the bike up to my house in the Oakland hills where my estranged wife was living in order to show it to her. The street ran up a very steep hill in front of the house. My wife had one of her best friends visiting, and the two women came out to see the bike. When I was ready to leave, I started the bike and attempted to make a low speed turn to the left to head down the steep street. And right in the middle of the roadway, I choked, hit the brake, and down it went. The two women were aghast, and came running over to see it I was OK. I was. But I said they would have to help me lift the bike. When we got it up and I prepared once again to ride off, my wife was just nodding her head, like thinking, "What an idiot!" I probably wasn't the first time she thought that.

I must have learned my lesson, because I don't remember dropping the Concours again by my own error anytime during the eight years or so that I owned it. There was, however, one instance when I had stayed in San Luis Obispo for a night on my way from Southern California back to San Francisco. In the morning, I rode to a little coffee shop downtown and parked the bike with the back wheel against the curb, as was customary in California, on the one-way street in front of the shop. It was adjacent to a drive entrance to a little parking lot on its right side, and about eight feet or so away on its left from the back of a Volvo station wagon, which was last in a line of cars parallel-parked farther down the block. The driver of the Volvo had plenty of room to get out of the parking spot. I went into the shop, got my coffee and pastry, and settled into a window seat to consume them. The bike was visible to me, and to my amazement, I watched a fellow who had been having coffee with a couple of friends in the shop walk out, look at my bike, then get into the Volvo wagon, start it up and immediately back up the eight feet, hit my bike, and knock it over on its right side. I calmly got up, left my coffee and food, and walked outside. The fellow had gotten out of his car and was looking at my bike on the ground. I looked at him calmly and said, "What happened? I was amazed. I saw you look at my bike, then get in your car and just back into it." The fellow, a blondish gentleman who appeared to be perhaps in his late 50s, was extremely apologetic. He said, "I don't know. I thought I had more room." I said, "Well, perhaps you could help me pick it up." He said OK, but first he needed to move his car forward. He got in, and as he pulled forward slowly I realized that the side-stand on my Concours was caught under the plastic rear bumper cover of his Volvo. As he pulled forward, the stand pulled on the plastic and tore a big hole in the middle of it. He walked back around and expressed concern and willingness to pay for any damage to my bike. I said, "Oh, I'm sure the bike is fine, but it looks like your car wasn't so lucky," and pointed to his bumper. He said he wasn't worried about that, and helped me pick up the bike. He apologized again, got into his car, and carefully drove away. I walked back into the coffee shop, but looked back out at my bike and realized that my full-face helmet, which had been sitting on the seat, had fallen on the pavement and was sitting in the middle of the entry drive to the parking lot. I walked back out and picked up the helmet. There was a guy sitting on a bench by the sidewalk who had seen the entire incident but hadn't budged. As I set the helmet back on the bike, he had that look on his face, like thinking, "What a shmo!" I just looked at him and said, "I don't suppose you could have mentioned the helmet when you saw us picking up the bike." He was looking like, "What crawled up your butt?" Like it was all my fault. I guess some people just aren't fond of motorcyclists. When I walked back into the coffee shop, a fellow who had been sitting at the next seat by the window and saw the whole thing said to me, "That was amazing! You were so calm about it! If it were my motorcycle, I would have been going crazy." I just said, "It's not the first time it's happened. I'm used to it." He told me the fellow who knocked it over with his car was a doctor, a cardiologist, well known and respected in San Luis Obispo. I said, "I'm glad I'm not having a heart attack."

The amazing thing: All these times the Concours got dropped never resulted in a scratch or damage to the plastic of the fairing. There was a little soft-plastic thing on each side, cleverly disguised as a decoration or some sort of air deflector, that always hit the ground first and protected the bike.

One summer in the late 1990s, probably 1999, I rode the Concours on a long loop around California with my girlfriend of the time on the back. We were out for over a week and carrying a fair amount of clothing and gear, so the bike was pretty heavily loaded. We rode Highway 1 down the Big Sur coast to Southern California, then east to Wrightwood to visit a business client, also friend, of mine, then up US 395 to Lake Tahoe. After that, we rode north and cross over to Redding, in the middle of the state, riding through Lassen Volcanic National Park and past Mount Lassen. After that, en route to Garberville, on the coast, before heading south on US 101 back to San Franciso, we took a back road through the Trinity Alps. The road turned from asphalt paved to gravel and then, as it wound through some very tight ten-MPH turns over a mountain the gravel turned to large, angular, likely-volcanic, two-inch stones. I had the Concours in first gear and was standing on the footpegs, bouncing around, as we negotiated that scary road. With my girlfriend, a tall lady who likely weighed about 140 lbs, and all our gear, I managed to ride the heavily loaded bike over the mountain without mishap. We eventually emerged onto a blacktop two-lane road that wound for several miles through multiple switchbacks with scenic views downhill to the Pacific coast. Proud but relieved, if I had known what that road was like I think I would have picked a different route. Trying to reconstruct that route, now, I have difficulty. I was following my nose, looking for a shortcut across the Trinity Alps. I'm thinking we must have been on County Road 502, the Ruth-Xenia Road, or Xenia Bluff Road, then Alderpoint Road down to Garberville, but I don't know for sure.

I sold this bike in 2001 after purchasing the BMW K1200LT. At the time of sale, I had owned the bike for about seven years and there were about 47,000 miles on the odometer.

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